While working at Moscow University, Ilya V. Shurov, 37, received an unusual phone call from her father. The police knocked on the door and asked him.
Two days ago, a Russian mathematics professor participated in the protests against the war in Ukraine. He also wrote several posts on Facebook in which he criticized what was happening in the neighboring country, and discussed the demonstrations that were to take place.
And while it wasn’t the first time the mathematician had demonstrated against the authorities, this time something was different.
By this time, the Russian government had begun drafting a law that would soon make critical commentary on the war forbidden.
– I understood why they came after me, but I did not know what they wanted to do, Shurov told Dagbladet over the phone.
– I was afraid that they would arrest me until the adoption of the new law, so that later they could accuse me of breaking the law and punish me with imprisonment for several years.
Almost no tickets left
Realizing that he must act quickly, he turned off his cell phone and hid with a friend.
March 3, the eighth day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, began a frantic search for airline tickets outside the country.
– It was another night where many were trying to escape. He says there were almost no tickets left.
The next day, the 37-year-old and his wife sat on the only plane they could board. They still do not know when they will see neither family nor homeland again, but Shurov remains clear about one thing:
I no longer feel safe in Russia, and I have no plans to return, unless there is a change in the regime.
Take advantage of knowledge
When Dagbladet spoke with Schurov, he moved from Tajikistan, which was the first stop for his flight from Russia.
He is now in a European country that he does not want printed for security reasons.
The 37-year-old is one of many young, highly educated people who have fled Putin’s regime in the past two weeks.
Many researchers have predicted that Russia is facing a massive brain drain, as people with higher education flock out of the country.
The result is that the sharp heads disappear, and the rest are the ones who have no choice. This is the last group that must move the country forward.
– When you lose sharp heads, the countries they travel to gain an advantage through technological development and innovation. Their home country faces the opposite problem, with less ingenuity and less knowledge in the public sector, says Professor Lothar Fritsch of Oslo’s Department of Informatics Mitt.
On March 4, the day after Shurov left the country, his fears came true. Then it became clear that Russia approved a bill which can be up to several years in prison for those who spread “false news” about the war.
The country also has plans to Tighten the grip on the Internet even moreand thus take a step closer to digital isolation, as Dagbladet recently mentioned.
In just the past two weeks, Professor Fritsch has noticed that there has been a huge movement in the digital bohemian world in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
He believes that one of the reasons so many in the industry are fleeing the country is that the increasing control of the internet will hamper the way they operate. For example, programming jobs for western companies.
– They began to move to Russian-speaking countries or allow Russian passports, such as Kazakhstan and Armenia, he said.
– A step backward
The professor of mathematics from Moscow regrets that he had to leave his homeland, but assures that he is still in contact with his students.
– If I had stayed, I would have been imprisoned, and after that I could not help anyone, he says.
Shurov says he has many colleagues who have also fled the country, or who are planning to do so.
The 37-year-old believes there is a growing trend among those with higher education, who can easily get jobs elsewhere in the world.
Russia is on its way to isolation. The economy is weaker than it has been in a long time, and Russian wages are not competitive. They took a step back, he says and continues:
I also cannot imagine that a good professor would think of coming to Russia now.
He believes that what is happening in Ukraine now, in time, will be a disaster similar to Russia.
– I think of those who will learn in a few years. I don’t know if there will be any universities or professors in a few years, he says and adds:
Young people are not responsible for this, but they still bear the consequences. All I can say is that I am very worried.
Shurov does not describe himself as an activist or politically active. He says he is a citizen who cares about basic human values and democratic principles.
In 2014, he and his current wife met when they were working as election observers in Ukraine. Three years later they married.
– I think if you asked any Russian whether it was possible for us to start a war with Ukraine, they would have said that it is impossible. Nobody believed her. It was a shock, says the 37-year-old.
Before the invasion began, he was not afraid to pretend or speak. In 2011, one year after his appointment to the prestigious university’s Higher School of Economics, he first took part in protests against election fraud.
Only once was he arrested by the police. However, he now feels that he no longer knows what to deal with.
When Russia went to war against Ukraine, it felt that there were no more rules for anything. The unimaginable happened.
However, he emphasizes that the worst situation, of course, is the situation now unfolding in Ukraine.
– But this is also a tragedy for everyone in Russia who has values about freedom and democracy. Our future is dark.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”